Thursday, April 1, 2010

SF Giants' Pitch Ready for Opening Home Exhibition Game Against Oakland 'A's!

It may be April Fools Day, but preparing the Giants' pitch at the AT &T Park has been no joke.

Tonight sees the Giants testing it out for the first time in an exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics.

And for award-winning Head Groundskeeper, Greg Elliott, it marks the culmination of six weeks of intensive labour and innovative changes...see previous blogs

In fact, the pitch has been almost ready for the last two weeks. In mid-March, Greg surveyed his handiwork and said, 'We could play baseball now. We are fine tuning.'

'We are 85 per cent ready for opening day. That doesn't mean we couldn't play. We could play a game out here tomorrow but it wouldn't be to our standards,' he said. 'Our standards' meaning nothing less than perfection, of course.

One of the new features is a different mix of grass, chosen for ability to withstand wear and tear, recuperate quickly and, not least, colour.

Underfoot, it needs to be spongy and springy, said Greg testing it out. To his delight the grass had grown in well and the colours were 'coming along.'

What greeted his eye at that moment was the ryegrass, the new incumbent being a Bermuda that is still dormant.

He dropped to the ground enthusiastically and peered into a strategic gap in the grass. There, poking through the sandy-coloured soil, were tiny shoots of Bermuda Tifway 11, displaying small spreading sprouts.

'We are starting to get positive growth, it's very exciting! It's loving the sun!' he said.

The tricky part to build is the pitcher's mound. This mound is in only it's second season of being built with six specially-engineered circular steel pallets that hold compacted soil for firmness. Their faint outline could be seen below the topsoil.

That day, Greg wanted more moisture in the mound. 'Moisture is the key to everything we do,' he said, a fine balancing act between too much and too little. Helping this is a totally new feature of moisture sensors. Three have been placed in the grass to measure moisture levels, ground temperature, salinity and acidity.

'It's a really cool project, technically speaking,' said Greg, adding 'Who knows, we could do it in the soil in the future.'

An accurate record of water levels also means less water being used, saving both on the environment and the bills. Being green is 'really big for us,' he said of the Giants' organization. 'There is no reason to have any excess out there and many reasons to take care especially of our resources.'

There was good news about the infield. It was 95 per cent ready in Greg's estimation. The test, and he  knelt down to demonstrate, is to put a small, sharp-ended key into the clay and twist. If the key turns smoothly, all is well, but if it turns up chunks of soil, then more work is needed.

Underfoot, the infield must give a 'cork-like feeling, springy and firm.' His infield responds just the way he likes it! He is going to continue giving it a little more conditioner, and remove a few tiny 'rocks'.


'People misunderstand and panic when I say 'rocks'! he said hastily. 'It's gravel, really.' He caught sight of a 'rock', bent down, picked it up and held it out in the palm of his hand.

Reassuringly, the 'rocks' that instill fear of a ball veering off course are bits of gravel smaller than one-quarter of an inch, part of the normal make-up of soil. Fine tuning indeed!

Home plate was more of a problem. 'We weren't happy with home plate, so we turned it over to dry it a bit more. Today was a good day. We have got the weather for us to do that,' he commented.

His instinct had served him well. It was hot in the empty stadium at 1 pm, and by the end of the day television weather reports were showing a high of 71 degrees, the highest temperature so far this year.

What was the problem with home plate? The 'tarp' had been down for a long time and with the El Nino spring producing well-fulls of water, it was 'dry on top and squishy beneath.' The field would have suffered too, but for Greg's care of the mix of soil and sand, and tilling to greater depth.

With innovations that Greg, the Giants and fans alike hope will make it one of the best baseball pitches in the country, he paid tribute to the enormous support given to him by the Giants' organization and particularly his boss, Jorge Costa, Senior Vice President, Ballpark Operations.

Now the day of testing is here.

'We call it Ground Hog Day when the team's in town!' he said, by which he meant that there are little variations to the daily maintenance 'but the end result is the same.'

In a few hours, the Giants will be playing against the Oakland 'A's. They play their opening game of the season away to the Houston Astros on Monday, which leaves Greg a few more days for final tweaking. Then the Orange and Black onslaught of the 2010 season begins at home next Friday against the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Greg and his pitch will be ready!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This may seem nitpicky, but unlike football and other grass-field sports, in baseball the playing area typically isn’t called a “pitch,” as pitch has another, different meaning in baseball (i.e. analogous to cricket bowling).